Vaccination clinic in Arcadia successful

When Olivia Fernandez received her first of two Covid-19 vaccination shots on May 1, 2021 she was very happy, having a new piece of mind that her whole family will be safe.

Fernandez was one of about 100 who received their vaccinations at Casa San Juan Bosco, a farm worker housing community in Arcadia built and operated by Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc.

“I’m am so happy to be here,” Fernandez said. “I worry about my little ones and this is one way to make sure I do what is right for them.”

The clinic was free and open to anyone in the community and administered by the DeSoto County Health Department. The event was scheduled from 1-4 p.m., but some arrived as early as 9 a.m. The effort was to encourage the large local Hispanic population to get vaccinated, a part of the community that has been reluctant to receive their vaccines because of worries over side-effects and misunderstandings about possible costs and documentation requirements.

Heather Smith of the DeSoto and Highlands County Health Departments praised Catholic Charities for the effort, explaining how the community members were receptive to take part in a clinic held at a property run by the Catholic Church.

“This made a big difference,” Smith said. “Thank you, Catholic Charities for doing this.”

Philomena Pereira, CEO of Catholic Charities, said the support of Bishop Frank J. Dewane allowed the most recent effort to happen. An initial vaccination clinic was held in late April but limited to the adult residents of Casa San Juan Bosco. They will be receiving their second shots in two weeks.

“This is just the next phase of our response to the pandemic,” Pereira said. “Part of that is being the conduit to help more and more people get vaccinated.”

There are plans to have additional vaccination clinics soon at other Catholic Charities sites, she explained. These will be promoted to the local communities as was the clinic in Arcadia. Fliers were set up throughout DeSoto County helping get the word out and ensuring success. Another Catholic Charities site in Arcadia, the food pantry adjacent to St. Paul, will host a vaccine clinic May 16.

The Arcadia clinic had some extra perks for those who were able to take part. People received a gift bag which included donated sandwiches from Market360 in Naples, fresh vegetables, coloring books and crayons from the faithful of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Fort Myers, as well as undergarments for adults and children.

Father Anthony Hewitt, Pastor of St. Francis Xavier assisted throughout the day, helping people check in and fill out the necessary health forms. Also present were representatives from the Patterson Foundation promoting their summer reading program, and information was provided about how to apply for free or low-cost health services. Catholic Charities representatives were also there to answer any questions, translate when necessary and to share information about other programs that are offered at two Arcadia locations.

Those who received their first vaccine on May 1 will be able to return for their second vaccine at Casa San Juan Bosco on May 29.

Please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org to learn more about Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice Inc.

Paschal Triduum celebrated throughout the Diocese

Faithful gather at Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice for a celebration of the Paschal Triduum (April 1-4, 2021).

The Paschal Triduum of the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord begins with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday), has its center in the Easter Vigil, and closes with Vespers (Evening Prayer) of the Sunday of the Resurrection (Easter).

Through the implementation of health and safety precautions, including social distancing and the wearing of masks, the 2021 celebrations were a stark difference from the Triduum of 2020 when churches were closed to public Mass during the early days of the global Pandemic.

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper at St. William Parish in Naples included the commemoration when Jesus Christ established the Sacrament of Holy Communion prior to His arrest and crucifixion. It also observes His institution of the priesthood. This Liturgy included the presentation of the oils blessed and consecrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane during the March 30 Chrism Mass which will be used for the Sacraments in the Parish throughout the year.

Later, was the traditional washing of the feet. A procession with the Holy Eucharist to transfer the Eucharist to the place of reposition in the Parish Hall followed the Prayer after Communion. This procession led out the main doors of the church and then around to the rear where the hall is located. Along the way were tiki torches to light the path.

On Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion, the faithful at St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston participated in the Stations of the Cross prior to the Liturgy which included the reading of the Passion from the Gospel of John.

Stations of the Cross at a few Parishes were led by children and in many cases the presentation was scaled-back due to the Pandemic. For example, thousands typically participate in the Stations at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee. The Liturgy was celebrated in English, Spanish and Creole and still drew a large crowd. Different in 2021, health and safety precautions required that the Veneration of the Cross took place without physically touching the crucifix.

An Easter Triduum Retreat at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice drew more than 30 people. Led by Director of Spirituality Father Mark Yavarone, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, the retreat started with supper on Holy Thursday and ended with breakfast on Easter Sunday following the celebration of a Sunrise Easter Liturgy.

On Easter, to accommodate the expected crowds and to ensure social distancing, Parishes throughout the Diocese added extra Masses and some even set up tents outside.

Built of Living Stones – New Church Dedicated in Arcadia

A Church building, dating from the ancient times, has been given the name – the Temple of the Lord. Because of this, a Dedication of a new Parish Church permanently makes the building a Sacred and Holy place where the faithful come to hear the Word of God, to pray together, to celebrate and receive the Sacraments, and to most precisely celebrate the Eucharist at the Table of the Lord.

The Church, as a building, is destined solely and permanently for the gathering of the faithful to give Glory and Praise to God, Bishop Frank J. Dewane stressed when he dedicated the new St. Paul Parish Church during a Mass on March 21, 2021 in Arcadia before a joyous assemblage.

While the Church is a visible building, Bishop Dewane said it is nothing without the faith-filled people of Arcadia. “You are the ‘living stones.’ You are the why we build this Church – to come to gather as a community to adore Christ… It fills my heart with joy to see so many here for this important moment.”

Fittingly, the dedication began in the old church, which lies a short distance to the west of the new worship space and was built more than 50 years ago. Present for the dedication were Father Pablo Ruani, IVE, Administrator of St. Paul Parish, and Father Remigious Ssekiranda, Parochial Vicar.  In addition, also present were Father Jose Gonzalez, Dean of the Eastern Deanery and Pastor of St. Catherine Parish in Sebring, as well as several priests who previously served at St. Paul and others serving in the Deanery.

Bishop Dewane began the Rite by proclaiming: “Beloved brothers and sisters, we have gathered with joy to dedicate a new church by celebrating the Lord’s Sacrifice. Let us take part in these sacred rites with loving devotion, listening to the Word of God with faith, so that our community, reborn from the one font of Baptism and nourished at the same table, may grow into a spiritual temple and, brought together at one altar, may advance in the love from on high.”

Led by the cross bearer, the priests and Bishop then processed from the old church to the front doors of the new church. Accompanying the procession were members of the Parish youth group dressed in festive Mexican garb as they led the singing of a chant. Once at the new church, the building was symbolically handed over to the Bishop and he said: “Enter the gates of the Lord with thanksgiving, his courts with songs of praise.” Father Ruani then opened the door.

The next part of the Rite began with the opening process and with Bishop arriving in the sanctuary and blessing of the water. Then he, along with Father Ruani, blessed the people with Holy Water as a symbol of the spiritual Temple of the Lord so as to recall their Baptismal promises. This was followed by the sprinkling of the walls of the Church, marking the Church as a holy place from that day forward – before finally blessing the altar and the sanctuary.

During his homily, Bishop Dewane emphasized the importance behind the new church by citing the Gospel of Matthew (16:13-19), which was proclaimed during the Mass. In Matthew, Jesus questions the disciples about who other people say He is. When their answers were unsatisfactory or seem to fall short, Jesus challenges Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” The Bishop noted that each one of those present is called to answer that question by the life that they live.

“Here in Arcadia, we set about to build this new Church to assist everyone in answering that question,” Bishop Dewane continued. “It is not just for the Fathers to answer it, or for those who are here often…  We put up this Church so that no one will have the chance to say: ‘Let someone else enter there.’ Let it be – in this Church of St. Paul – where everyone begins their response to the Lord, the question of ‘Who do you say that I am?’ and they end with their response by carrying the Lord with them throughout their daily life.”

After the homily, as part of the Rite, the Litany of Saints replaced the general intercessions, and was the followed by the placing in the altar a relic of St. Juan Diego.

Bishop Dewane then gave the Prayer of Dedication, which was followed by the anointing, when he spread Sacred Chrism Oil – blessed at the Chrism Mass during Holy Week – first on the altar and then in the sign of the cross at four points on the walls of the Church. This is done to mark, through sacred designation, the altar and Church. Next was the incensation, symbolic of the “prayers rising up to the Lord, not just for today, but for generations to come” of the altar and then of the nave of the Church.

The formal lighting of the altar and the Church began with the Bishop presenting Father Ruani with a lighted candle, who then proceeded to light the candles on the newly anointed altar while the lights of the building were turned on. With the Rite concluded and the altar prepared, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass continued.

Bishop Dewane thanked the many people who worked behind the scenes in getting the new church ready and open and acknowledged the local dignitaries from Arcadia who were present. After the Mass, there was a celebratory reception.

Leticia Flores said she cried during the Mass of Dedication, noting how beautiful the new worship space is and how important this day is for the Parish community. Following the Mass, she stayed with her family in the Church to not only pray but to admire the beautiful worship space.

“What a wonderful day,” Flores said. “Bishop Dewane has blessed this community with this new church. We are so grateful. Incredible!”

Manuel Rojas has only been at St. Paul for two years, but said he was in shock when he entered the new church and saw its massive size and bright interior.

“Stunning!” Rojas said while examining the altar which is flanked by statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Paul. “You could fit several of our old churches in here. It is the perfect place to pray and worship to Our Lord.”

The new Church addresses the Pastoral needs of the growing and vibrant multicultural community and greatly increases the seating capacity from the existing worship space. The new Church was previously a supermarket and the necessary liturgical and canonical features were included in the redesign. The front façade is in a traditional style that borrows from Spanish Mission Revival archetypes. The central entrance features fusion glass windows with a rose window above the triple arched entrance. On the roofline is a large cross as well as 11-foot-tall bronze statues of St. Paul and St. Peter. Baker Liturgical Arts, LLC of Plantsville, Connecticut, was the contractor; Prime Design Professional was the architect and engineer.

The remaining space at the new location will be improved in the coming years to eventually accommodate the Parish offices, space for religious education instruction, as well as a Parish Hall.

St. Paul Parish has a rich history in Arcadia that dates back to the 1880s. The first permanent priest arrived in 1910 and the first Church was built in 1915. St. Paul was canonically erected as a Parish on July 25, 1958 in the Diocese of St. Augustine which then covered the entire state of Florida. Currently, St. Paul serves more than 3,100 individuals and 600 families.

As necessitated by the Pandemic, the number of people inside the church for the dedication and blessing was limited to ensure appropriate social distancing.

Kindness links Parish to Parish

The generosity of the faithful to help their brothers and sisters in need is always inspiring. That generosity can manifest itself with toys for children during the holidays, food at Thanksgiving, backpacks for students and much more.

Recently, the faithful of St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers made a generous donation of a bus to the faithful of St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston. This is just the latest act of generosity from the one Parish to the other, something that is needed and appreciated.

“I am so grateful with this good gift and all the help St. Columbkille is giving us,” said Father Jiobani Batista, Pastor of St. Margaret.

Some 80 miles apart, one near the Gulf of Mexico while the other is on the shores of Lake Okeechobee, the distance between the two faith communities has been bridged by the two Pastors, Father Batista in Clewiston and Father Lorenzo Gonzalez in Fort Myers.

Father Gonzalez has first-hand knowledge of the ongoing needs of the Parishes in the Eastern Deanery. Before his assignment at St. Columbkille, he spent seven years as Pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Moore Haven, a poor community immediately north of Clewiston. Father remembered that the support of other, wealthier Parishes was crucial in helping to meet the pastoral needs of the faithful.

“Because of that experience, and now being at a Parish where the community is extremely generous, we have reached out to all the missions of the Diocese and made donations to each in the past,” Father Gonzalez explained. “In the past two years our focus has been on St. Margaret, St. Joseph the Worker and St. Catherine in Sebring. It is the work of the Women’s Guild, Knights of Columbus, Homeless Sleeping Mats Ministry and other outreach groups who have been supporting these Parishes, financially, with food, shoes, toys, school supplies and much more.”

The bus which was donated to Clewiston was previously used to transport children for afterschool programs and other activities in Lee County. The Parish has a newer bus and the Pastoral Council decided to give the bus to a Parish in need, Father Gonzalez added.

Father Batista explained that the faithful of St. Columbkille have been helping St. Margaret by offering support for years, but this outreach expanded during the ongoing Pandemic, responding to a call for help due to a massive increase in demand for food and financial assistance.

“They have been very generous with their support,” Father Batista said.  “When I have a need or a project, I call Father Lorenzo. On this latest occasion I asked him to help us to buy a bus. But they decided to donate one of the two they have. This nice gift will better serve our pastoral work in our Parish.”

Located on the extreme eastern edge of the Diocese of Venice, St. Margaret serves a rural farming community which is spread across a large area and many do not have reliable transportation.

“This bus will allow us to bring people to the Parish for large celebrations as well as events across the Diocese,” Father added.

The timing of the gift coincided with the start of a Parish Jubilee Year, which began on Feb. 8, 2021, the 89th anniversary of the erecting of the Parish. During the coming year, Father Batista plans to have several opportunities to celebrate the Parish and its impact on the community on the southeast side of Lake Okeechobee for the past 90 years and beyond.

Father explained to the faithful of St. Margaret that Jubilee Year will have the motto: “We strengthen our parish family in Love” and will close on February 7, 2022.

“The motto shows how we want to live; a year to the fullest in which Love is the Queen virtue, a virtue that is the essence of the Holy Trinity and that of our patroness, ‘Saint Margaret of Scotland’ knew the Incarnate Lord,” Father Batista expressed in a message to the faithful. “We want to always put into practice this Love of God at all levels.  Beginning in our homes, reaching our children, our young people, newly married couples, our elderly who have sown the seed of faith in this community, and in communion with those who are no longer with us, with the certainty that we will meet again.”

As St. Margaret Parish continues in its Jubilee Year, Father Batista said that the faithful of St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers, and the others who support the people of Clewiston, will remain in their prayers as a way of gratitude for their generosity.

Demand for food at Parishes remains strong

Wendy Shaver owns a small consulting agency, but her business has been closed since August when all of her clients went out of business due to impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“It has been a very difficult time,” Shaver said on Jan. 28, 2021 as she waited patiently for food that was being distributed  by members of the Sacred Heart Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the parking lot of Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda. “I never thought I would ever need food, but I was desperate as all of my savings are gone. This food will help me get by another few weeks.”

The food is part of the regional Harry Chapin Food Bank mobile food pantry distribution and organized through the Charlotte County COAD (Community Organizations Active in a Disaster) Food Task Force. Distribution take place four times a month, twice at Sacred Heart Parish, and includes a food kit, with about 5 days of meals.

Paul Kaiser, President of the Sacred Heart Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, explained that a core group of volunteers ensures the bi-monthly food distribution takes place without a hitch. The Conference has also kept its offices near the Punta Gorda Airport open three days a week. On these days, food is distributed to 40 to 80 individuals and families, or up to 240 a week beyond those helped through the mobile food pantry. That compares to 150 assisted per month before the Pandemic.

Meanwhile, at Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers, the small food pantry there is officially open each Tuesday morning, but for families in need of assistance during off-hours, help is available.

“We help up to 100 families a week, but we support several hundred households regularly since not every family comes weekly – some come biweekly, or monthly, or only occasionally in an emergency situation,” explained Father Patrick O’Connor, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, Pastor of Jesus the Worker Parish.

The pantry receives food from the Harry Chapin Food Bank, as well as from MidWest Food Bank, but the Parish staff and volunteers must pick up its own food. The Parish also relies upon donations from the faithful within the community and from surrounding Parishes.

“The food pantry is a defining ministry in the Christian life of our community,” Father O’Connor described. “Our people are proud of the work of our pantry and see it as an important part of our Catholic identity as a Church community, fulfilling one of the great mandates of love of Jesus – to feed the hungry. One might think that such a ministry would be a drain in the community, but quite the opposite, it draws people to our community, and it is life giving.”

The food pantry at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula also remains very busy. The weekly distribution early Saturday mornings begins before sunrise and is over by 9 a.m. The food comes from various sources, including parishioners, the All Faiths Food Bank in Sarasota, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., and other churches.

Sister Maria Madre de le Alborada Quizhpe, Sister Servant of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, who organizes the weekly distribution, said the number of families seeking help each week remains high at 200 or more. That is only slightly less than the peak immediately after the Pandemic began.

“There are many who are out or work or working less, so the need is there and they come to St. Michael’s for help,” Sister Alborada said, noting that the farming community has been impacted hard by the pandemic as crops are smaller because demand is less. Because of the different sources, the food distributed in Wauchula is a mix of fresh vegetables, frozen meat, bread and essentials, such as beans and rice. When possible, candy is added for the small children.

In Wauchula, as is the case in Punta Gorda and Fort Myers, the food distribution relies on a core group of volunteers who work during the distribution or in advance to help prepare the food. They also each rely on the generosity of those individuals who are not facing as much of an impact during the Pandemic as others.

“People have been generous, and it is making a big difference,” Sister Alborada said. “But the demand is still here.”

How to support or volunteer at a food pantry

Sacred Heart Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, visit https://www.svdp-dov.org/sacred-heart/, call 941-575-0767 or write to 25200 Airport Road, Punta Gorda, FL, 33950.

Jesus the Worker Parish food pantry, call 239-693-5333, or write to 881 Nuna Ave., Fort Myers, FL 33905.

St. Michael Parish, call 863-773-4089, or write to 408 Heard Bridge Road, Wauchula, FL 33873.

Another way to help

Walk for the Poor

The 12th annual Walk for The Poor to support the Charlotte County Conferences of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, is 9 a.m., Feb. 13, 2021, at the Laishley Park Pavilion in Punta Gorda (registration begins at 8 a.m.). Each year, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul hosts the Walk for the Poor to raise funds and to increase awareness of the needs of the less fortunate living in our Charlotte County community.

The walk will proceed along the Trabue Harbor Walk or the northbound U.S. 41 bridge, if preferred. For more information call: 917-549-0555; to register or donate visit our website at https://svdp-dov.org/charlotte and click on Walk for the Poor.

Parish Outreach Center dedicated, blessed in Wauchula

The mission of the new St. Michael Outreach Center in Wauchula is to develop each person’s recognition of their individual dignity and worth through the cultivation of their emotional, spiritual, intellectual and social development. The Center’s supportive economic, therapeutic, and educational resources are designed to provide a healthy framework for personal and social growth within families and the community.

That mission was celebrated with a dedication and blessing ceremony of the Outreach Center by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on Nov. 21, 2020. Participating in the ceremony were staff, volunteers, supporters and local government officials (including Hardee County Manager Lawrence McNaul), as well as the Servant Sisters of the Virgin Matara, the religious sisters who serve at St. Michael Parish. Among the supporters’ present were members of the Our Lady of the Angels Knights of Columbus.

The Outreach Center, purchased and remodeled by the Diocese of Venice, is designed for community outreach to low-income individuals/families and the migrant community. This includes overseeing a food bank and thrift store as well as having afterschool programming, immigration services, mental health counseling from Catholic Charities, and other classes for both children and adults.

As part of the ceremony, a prayer service, which included Bishop Dewane first incensing the exterior and interior of the building as well as blessing the building with holy water. The was followed by comments for key people involved in the Outreach Center.

Bishop Dewane praised everyone for their hard work noting that they are making a real difference in reaching out and providing needed services in this poor economically challenged community.

The blessing was delayed because of the COVID-19 Pandemic and participants wore masks as a precaution. Programming at the Center began several months ago but are limited due to social distancing requirements as well as the ongoing urgent need for supplies.

The afterschool program for kindergarten through fifth grade is supplementing the student’s education by providing small group teacher-led instruction to bring them up to grade level. This is necessary because many are simultaneously learning a second language. Teen helpers assist with homework and provide other guidance for the younger children. Included in the afterschool effort is handwriting and cursive instruction, character formation, as well as outdoor developmental playtime.

Chantelle Garcia, who is an elementary school teacher, assists with the afterschool program as tutor and program coordinator. Garcia explained that in the first three weeks of the program the children made great strides. “It is amazing to see the difference that was made in such a short period of time. Imagine how they will be in three months or longer. There is a wait list because families are learning how well those in the program are doing.”

While the Outreach Center is making a positive impact, there are urgent needs. These include basic school supplies (construction paper, card stock, paints/pastels, crayons, educational games, books) for younger children (K-5). There is also a demand for children’s underwear, socks, shoes and sneakers to help the poorer families provide necessities. Another need is for metal supply cabinets with locks, as well as shelves for storage.

“We are just getting started and we don’t have a lot of money in the community, so our needs are great,” explained Erika Wood, Outreach Center Coordinator.

Another example of a need is that of musical instruments. Thanks to a donation of a grand piano, the Outreach Center does offer piano lessons. However, only a few children are learning to play, while other music lessons are limited to teaching basic notes and rhythm. The wish list includes Yamaha electric pianos (with headphones) as well as other instruments, so as more children can learn at the same time.

Sister Gema Ruiz, who is the Director of Religious Education at St. Michael Parish, said it is a blessing to have the Outreach Center and for Bishop Dewane to be present for a blessing and dedication.

“We are providing needed services in this community and it is good to have the Bishop here to see our work and to inform the Diocese of the blessed work we are doing here in Wauchula,” Sister Gema said.

To learn more about how you can help the St. Michael Outreach Center, you can reach Erika Wood at 863-832-6904, Erika.wood@stmichaelwauchula.org, or you can send donations to: St. Michael Outreach Center, 317 N. 6th Ave., Wauchula, FL 33873.

“The UnBall” auction bidding now open

Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice, Inc. invites all to participate in “The UnBall,” a Virtual Charity Ball to stop human trafficking at 7 p.m., Nov. 12, 2020.

During the 45-minute virtual event, you will not only hear a survivor share her inspirational story and learn how you can make an impact, but you will also have the opportunity to support victims of human trafficking regain their lives and dignity. Please consider a donation or bid on some of the great auction items at https://ccdov.afrogs.org.

Florida, unfortunately, is one of the top three states for human trafficking meaning this form of slavery is right before our eyes. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a magnifying glass that has highlighted the inequality and injustices that make some people easy prey for traffickers. Sadly, Catholic Charities is seeing an increased number of human trafficking victims in all 10 counties of the Diocese.

Bidding is open now through 9 p.m., Nov. 12 at https://ccdov.afrogs.org for auction items which include: a private Villa Vacation in Southern Italy; wine pull’; tickets to the 2021 Final Four; a 5-star getaway to Napa Valley wine country; and a sing-along Zoom with a Broadway star. In addition, a generous donor is providing a matching gift of $50,000 for “The UnBall.”

For more information, please contact Janet Pavelack at 239-334-4007 ext. 2101, janet.paverlack@catholiccharitiesdov.org, or by visiting www.catholiccharitiesdov.org.

Confirmation held in outdoor pavilion

Bishop Frank J. Dewane bestowed the Sacrament of Confirmation on a group of more than 90 young men and women on Oct. 17, 2020 at the Pioneer Park Pavilion in Zolfo Springs.

The youth were from St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, San Alfonso Mission in Zolfo Springs and Holy Child Mission in Bowling Green.

The alternate location was used to ensure that not only the youth and their sponsors could attend, but also family members. The facility is also used for the annual celebration of Our Lady of a Guadalupe.

Our Lady celebrated in Sarasota

The Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre (Our Lady of Charity of Copper) holds a special place in the heart of Isabel Diaz for Our Lady provides a connection to her heritage as an American-born Cuban.

“This devotion goes back in my family many generations and the stories of the celebrations on this day always bring me great joy,” Diaz explained as she prayed following a Mass dedicated to Our Lady on Sept. 8, 2020 at St. Jude Parish.

St. Jude Pastor, Father Celestino Gutierrez, said the celebration of the Patroness of Cuba was toned-down this year because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. However, the faith of the people was not diminished.

“On Sunday (Sept. 6, 2020), there was a Mass and reception, but it was more a sign of unity versus the large party it has been in the past,” Father Gutierrez said.

A statue of Our Lady was placed on a table in front of the altar for the Masses, flanked by the U.S. and Cuban flags. The image of Our Lady of Charity depicts Mary standing on the moon and surrounded by angels, while holding the Child Jesus, who holds a globe in one hand and raises the other hand in a gesture of blessing. Following the Mass, many remained to pray, leave flowers, or to take photos of or with the statue.

Diaz prayed for “protection and comfort,” during these turbulent times of pandemic and economic difficulties. “It’s what my family used to pray for before they left Cuba many years ago, and what we still all pray for. Our Lady is always there for us.”

Devotion to the Mary under the title of Our Lady of Charity dates to 1612 when two indigenous laborers and a slave boy were on a boat in a fierce storm when they sought the protection of Mary. The storm suddenly calmed and then in the distance they spotted a white bundle floating on a piece of wood. It was a small statue of Mary holding the infant Jesus on her left arm and a gold cross on her raised right hand. Inscribed on the wooden board were the words, “Yo soy la Virgen de la Caridad” (“I am Our Lady of Charity”). Despite being found in the water after a storm, the white material in which the statue was wrapped in remained completely dry.

Our Lady of Charity was declared patroness of Cuba by Pope Benedict XV in 1916. Pope Benedict XVI visited Cuba in 2012, as the Church in the country celebrated the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the statue of Our Lady of Charity. The Holy Father entrusted the future of Cuba to the Blessed Virgin.

Catholic News Service contributed to this report.

Eucharistic Adoration brings one closer to Christ

The First Friday of September was a spiritually emotional day for Bonnie Coyle as it was the first time since March that she participated in Eucharistic Adoration.

Coyle has been a devotee of adoration for many years, finding great comfort in spending quiet time with the Lord in addition to attending Mass. The COVID-19 Pandemic physically separated her, and many others, from the Lord for an extended period and this distressed her greatly.

“I love coming to Mass, but adoration has always been special for me,” Coyle explained. “I just never realized how special it was and how much I would miss it when it wasn’t available. I was worried about coming back for health reasons, so I stayed away even longer. But I am back, and I feel a great relief to again be able to quietly pray before the Lord!”

Coyle was not alone, as many stayed for adoration on Sept. 4, 2020 following the Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Venice.

While public Mass resumed in the Diocese of Venice in late May, adoration followed more slowly as Parishes figured out the best way to do so while still ensuring health and safety protocols were being followed.

Instead of taking place in the Parish Chapel, the Mass and adoration at Our Lady of Lourdes took place in the main Church, thus allowing the 100 or so present plenty of space to participate in both without concern.

The Blessed Sacrament is carried in the back of a pickup truck as part of a vehicle procession from St. Michael Parish in Wauchula to nearby Missions on Sept. 29, 2020 in celebration of the fifth anniversary of the Perpetual Adoration Chapel.

At Parishes throughout the Diocese, the offering of Eucharistic Adoration has required some changes. Most parishes have designated days and times for adoration with many including the First Friday of each month. When possible, Parishes with small Adoration Chapels have created a reservation system for adorers.

The occasion of the fifth anniversary of the Perpetual Adoration Chapel at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula during the ongoing Pandemic led to a unique celebration Aug. 29, 2020.

Parish Administrator Father Oscar Mendoza Moya led a procession of vehicles, while riding in the bed of a pickup truck with the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance. The procession went from the Parish to Holy Child Mission in Bowling Green, then on to San Alfonso Mission in Zolfo Springs, before returning to the Parish. At each location, Father Moya offered a special blessing. The celebration concluded with a Mass of Thanksgiving in the main Church.

Lucinda Perez described the entire evening as amazing. “What a beautiful way to honor Jesus Christ and celebrate the Adoration Chapel and for the Parish and Missions to come together.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane encouraged the expansion and availability of Adoration in an Aug. 5, 2020 letter to the priests of the Diocese. “This will be of great help and consolation to the Faithful during these turbulent times, when the People of God long to be close to the Lord,” Bishop Dewane wrote.

Pope Francis is a strong proponent of participating in Eucharistic Adoration, describing it as a way of putting the Lord at the center of one’s life. The Holy Father includes adoration in many public celebrations. Most notably, on March 27, 2020 Pope Francis presided over the Eucharistic Adoration before he imparted the “Urbi et Orbi” blessing from outside St. Peter’s Basilica, before the empty square where he usually has the general audience.

Please contact your local Parish for the latest Eucharistic Adoration schedule.

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